The Art of Storytelling: Why Your Brand Needs to Be More Like Taylor Swift

August 20, 2023

Brand Strategy and Marketing Lessons from Taylor Swift

Storytelling in marketing is as old as human history. We communicate and connect as humans by sharing experiences, information and emotions in narratives we call stories. These stories can capture imagination and leave an imprint on an audience, demonstrating why storytelling is important in marketing 

Stories tend to stick with us because they tap into fundamental aspects of human psychology (like memory encoding), making each good story an effective tool for communication, connection, and impact.

As a brand-marketing agency, we use brand storytelling to translate our clients’ features into benefits—and those benefits into emotionally-driven messaging that sticks with our audiences. But even after developing more than 150 brand stories in 23 years, we can still learn a thing or two from the best storytellers in the world, like T.Swizzle herself: Taylor Swift. 

When Taylor Swift first burst onto the scene, her musical talent and charisma was evident, but it was always her songwriting ability that stood out from other artists. “Can you believe Taylor Swift writes all her own songs?” used to be something people said. Now, her songwriting is more than just an interesting tidbit—it’s one of her distinguishing characteristics as an artist and a key part of the Taylor Swift brand 

Taylor Swift is more than a “singer/songwriter,” though. Taylor Swift is a master storyteller, and as the unbelievable Summer of Swift comes to an end, we wanted to draw inspiration from her unique storytelling skillset, while making a connection to brand storytelling . 

Making the Unique Feel Universial

When it comes to crafting compelling narratives, both Taylor Swift and modern brands employ time-tested techniques that resonate deeply with their audiences. Let’s explore.

Swift’s songs almost always focus on very personal experiences, emotions, and challenges she’s faced. They’re intimate and unique to her experience, allowing fans to see glimpses of her soul. It’s the reason hits like “Love Story” and “All Too Well” resonated so deeply with many—they’re deeply personal yet universal.

Similarly, successful brands are built from Unique Selling Propositions that distinguish them from competitors, without losing relatability or universal appeal. It’s about drawing a direct line between the brand’s strengths and the audience’s needs, much like Taylor correlates her experiences with universal emotions. When you can make the unique aspects of your brand feel understood and inclusive, brand loyalty and brand magic (and outstanding songwriting) comes alive. 

Authenticity Is Believability

Taylor is known for her authenticity. She doesn’t just sing; she tells her truth. This creates an emotional connection that  allows listeners to connect with her on a deeper level, turning them into devoted fans, thereby building a strong fan base. 

Brands should aim for a similar kind of connection. When COHN immerses ourselves deeply into the client’s world, we’re doing so to try our best to see, feel and truly understand your point of view. 

While we can never fully embody your core values, we do our best to draw out the authentic perspective of your brand and bring that realness to your brand strategy and strategic audience messaging. This ensures that your brand story isn’t just about the brand itself, but about its symbiotic relationship with its audiences.

But authenticity, like trust, is a fickle thing. It has to be proven over and over again, and small deviations from the truth cut into your brand authenticity. This is why your brand promise matters so much. At COHN, our brand strategy process will uncover the brand promise that only you can make because it’s authentic to your brand’s core. 

Archetypes as a Framework

Swift’s songwriting brilliance lies in her ability to make listeners truly feel a range of emotions, from joy to sorrow, using clear narratives and a logical progression through her stories. In fact, Taylor is brilliant at leaning into story archetypes found in literature, fairytales and other classic modes of storytelling. Rebirth, redemption, romance, tragedy, comedy and everyday life are stories we know inherently as humans, and Taylor has built an entire catalogue of song/stories from these archetypes. 

In brand storytelling, we similarly use archetypes to quickly convey associations we want our audiences to make with our brands. There are 12 fundamental brand archetypes and 60 more nuanced archetypes, according to “Archetypes in Branding” by Hartwell and Chen. As the theory goes, all brands in history take on a specific archetype in how they present themselves to the world. From Nike as “The Hero” to Disney as “The Magician,” these archetypes become a quick reference for consumers to absorb and understand their brand. 

Just like the narrative arcs in Taylor’s songs. 

Brand Voice, Tone, and Identity

Consistency is key in storytelling. Whether Taylor is seen as the country girl-next-door or the global pop sensation, her voice as a storyteller and her public persona has always remained authentic. 

Brands must find their unique voice, too. Are they the “Volvo” or the “Porsche” of their industry? Knowing and adhering to a consistent voice, tone and identity creates brand stories more recognizable and memorable.

The Challenge of Emotional Depth

Crafting a narrative that touches the soul isn’t easy. Just as Swift strives to pen lyrics that strike an emotional chord, brands face the challenge of moving beyond surface-level details to capture the heart of their story.

But emotions alone can’t persuade an audience. In brand marketing, a blend of ethos, pathos, and logos is essential. We must speak to both the hearts and minds of our audiences. The story needs to be emotive, but it must also offer clear reasons for why a brand stands out.

Strong Brands Must Evolve

Taylor Swift has been in the public eye for nearly 20 years, and while she’s always been Taylor, it would be a mistake not to see her evolution as a songwriter, storyteller, brand and human being. Not only has she evolved musical genres, from country to pop to even indie at times, she’s also evolved as a social activist, political influencer and demographic-transcendent  star with mass appeal. 

With our clients at COHN, we try to build brands that can sustain external factors, but all brands must eventually evolve their stories to resonate with changing consumer sentiments, political and social context, global trends and internal dynamics. We do this thoughtfully and strategically, without hitting the reset button. 

So… Did We Convince You? 

Look, we acknowledge that this blog post was opportunistic in riding the Taylor Swift mania, but there’s no doubt that all brand marketers should be studying Taylor’s powerful storytelling tactics. Whatever she is doing is working, and if we at COHN can borrow any insights for your brand, we will. 

Let’s get together to think through what your brand’s “Love Story” can be. 

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